The Detroit Zoological Society in Royal Oak, Mich., has formed a Zoo-Park Partnership (ZPP) for America’s Keystone Wildlife with Isle Royale National Park to support the recovery of wolves and their relationship with moose on this island in the middle of Lake Superior. ZPP collaborative field conservation efforts focus on understanding how introduced wolves are adapting to their new environment on Isle Royale.
With assistance from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry researchers, trail cameras, installed strategically throughout the island, help the National Park Service (NPS) document wolf and moose interactions, document the numbers of animals and allow for estimates of abundance for other wildlife species on the island.
Isle Royale’s remote island geography naturally lends itself to genetic challenges in the species that call it home. Climate change has reduced the winter ice cover on Lake Superior which used to allow for natural genetic flow from new wolves crossing to the island from Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.
Isle Royale’s wolf population was reduced to a single pair of close relatives in 2018. From September 2018 to September 2019, the NPS worked with state, tribal, and Canadian officials to reintroduce wolves to the island from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Minnesota, and Ontario.
Three years later, the current population on the island is more than 14 with demonstrated reproduction over two years. Without the reintroduction of new wolves and genetic lines, wolves would have disappeared from the island. In addition, the critical balance of predators and prey would have been tipped—allowing the moose population to become too large, which would damage the Isle Royale ecosystem.
“Wolves are an essential part of healthy ecosystems like Isle Royale’s. This collaboration helps protect Michigan’s native wildlife and wild places,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society.
The ZPP Project, hosted by the Wildlife Restoration Foundation which partners with the NPS and Association of Zoos and Aquariums, recently awarded the Detroit Zoological Society an America’s Keystone Wildlife (AKW) Grant to fund additional aspects of the research, particularly impacts of inbreeding on Isle Royale’s wolves in collaboration with Dr. Kristin Brzeski at Michigan Technological University.
A portion of the America’s Keystone Wildlife Grant will fund a new interpretive installation, focusing on wolves and Isle Royale, inside the Zoo’s Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness log cabin. The two-acre habitat, which is home to gray wolves Kaskapahtew and Renner, mimics Isle Royale and features grassy hills and meadows, native Michigan trees, a flowing stream and pond, dens and elevated rock outcroppings from which the wolves can survey their surroundings.
The Detroit Zoological Society also participates in annual Moosewatch Expeditions on the island led by scientists at Michigan Technological University. Ongoing for more than 62 years, this research is the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. Detroit Zoological Society staff and volunteers traveled more than 800 miles to search for moose bones that help researchers understand the size, age, and health of each individual moose as well as extrapolate the overall moose population.
Photos credit: ©Isle Royale National Park
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